London, Nov. 8 (ANI): Chelsea's Didier Drogba is still haunted by the memory of the March 29, 2009 stampede when 19 Ivory Coast supporters lost their lives, fighting for breath when all they wanted to do was follow their team and show loyalty to their heroes.
Drogba and his team mates played on against Malawi, he scored twice, 90 minutes passed. And then, the realisation of what had happened dawned on them.
A collapsed gate inside the stadium, people buried under a stampede as they bundled their way in to see the World Cup qualifier, bodies piling up on ramshackle terraces. Those images will never leave him. That wall. That gate. Those supporters.
"Now I play for the people who came to see us and never came back," is Drogba's considered take on those traumatic events, according to the News of The World.e speaks so softly, with care and compassion, that it's almost impossible to accept here is a man whose abuse of a Norwegian referee earned him a UEFA ban and the disgust of virtually everybody outside of Stamford Bridge.
This is the caring and compassionate side, shrugging off his reputation as a dark, moody character.
Yet sit down with him, flick through a variety of topics and Drogba deals with them with intelligence and insight. He wants to talk about his son Issac, recently signed to play in Chelsea's academy alongside Michael Ballack's boy.
Then there are the quieter moments, the flashbacks of that day in Abidjan when 60,000 people turned up to watch their World Cup qualifier against Malawi.
There was such excitement, such tension as Ivory Coast supporters prepared to celebrate qualification for the African Cup of Nations.
The team was full of exuberance and so were the fans, eager to salute the stars such as Drogba, Kolo Toure and Salomon Kalou, as the team started the journey to the World Cup in South Africa with a qualifier at home.
Everyone wanted to watch it, piling through gateways, pushing for a place on the overworked terraces.
That wall. That gate. Those supporters.
"They say that 19 people died, but I think it was more," Drogba admits.
"They said there were bodies, but we kept playing. We didn't know, we knew nothing. We knew nothing of the deaths. Nothing. Often in the Ivory Coast people collapse on the terraces, but they get taken to the medicine room to recover. This was something different. Terrible."
Drogba visited a makeshift morgue the next day, comforting relatives as the true extent of the disaster began to emerge. The country was in shock, trying to come to terms with the chaos and confusion when it should have been about celebration.
"It's the reason we have to do well at the World Cup, it's what the supporters wanted. We can't bring the kids back, but we'd like to bring their parents a little joy," Drogba said. (ANI)